10 Harsh Realities that Help You Grow

10 Harsh Realities that Help You Grow

All the world is full of suffering.  It is also full of overcoming.
—Helen Keller

Character and wisdom are sculpted over time.  They come with loss, lessons, and triumphs.  They come after doubts, second guesses, and exploring unknowns.  If there were a definitive path to happiness and success, everyone would be on it.  The seeds of your progress are planted in your past failures.  Your best stories will come from overcoming your greatest struggles.  Your praises will be birthed from your pains.  So keep standing, keep learning, and keep living.

Over the past decade Angel and I have dealt with several severe hardships, including the sudden death of a sibling, the loss of a best friend to illness, betrayal from a business partner, and an unexpected breadwinning employment layoff.  These experiences were brutal.  Each of them, unsurprisingly, knocked us down and kept us down for a while.  But when our time of mourning was over after each tragedy, we pressed forward, stronger, and with a greater understanding and respect for life.

So my challenge to you today is this:  Start looking at life’s harsh realities and toughest challenges as friends that are going to help you grow.

Here are some thoughts to consider…

1.  The first step is never easy.

The beginnings to good things are always the hardest, but it’s these hard times that pave the path to greatness.  Be strong and keep the faith.  It will be worth it in the end.  The greatest miracle of your success in life will not be that you finished, it will be that you found the strength and courage to begin.

And remember, it’s not that those who are strong never get weak in the knees, or that they never hold their breath before they embark…  It’s that while their knees are shaking, they force themselves to breathe and take the first step.

2.  Good things rarely come quick and easy.

Life is not easy, but it’s worth it.  If you expect it to be, you will perpetually disappoint yourself.  Achieving anything worthwhile in life takes time and effort.  You must align your efforts with your goals and then start every day ready to run farther than you did yesterday and fight harder than you ever have before.

Persistence is the single most common characteristic of high achievers.  They simply refuse to give up.  The longer you hang in there, the greater the chance that something will happen in your favor.  Success is the good fortune that comes from aspiration, desperation, perspiration and inspiration.  No matter how hard it seems, the more you persist, the more likely your success.  (Read The Last Lecture.)

3.  You will always have less control than you desire.

The only thing you can absolutely control in life is how you react to things out of your control, and there’s a lot you can’t control.  The better you adapt to this reality, the more powerful your highs will be, and the more quickly you’ll be able to bounce back from the lows.  Put most simply: Living a happy, fulfilling life means being in a state of complete acceptance of all that is, right here, right now.

As your life unfolds, you will often realize that many of the times you thought you were being rejected from something good, you were in fact being redirected to something better.  You don’t have to control everything to find peace and happiness.  You just need to do your best, and then relax and have faith that things will work out.  Let go and just let life happen the way it’s supposed to.  Because sometimes the outcomes you can’t change end up changing you and helping you grow to your full potential.

4.  You cannot avoid risk without avoiding life.

As Henry David Thoreau once said, “When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.”

Living is a risk.  Happiness is a risk.  If you’re not a little scared sometimes, then you’re not doing it right.  Don’t worry about mistakes and failures, worry about what you’re giving up when you don’t even try.  Worry about the life you’re not living and the happiness you’re forgoing, as you merely exist in the safety of your comfort zone.  Give yourself permission to be one of the people who survived doing it wrong, who made mistakes, but recovered from them and grew into your truest self.

5.  Your biggest problems are often in your head.

The primary cause of unhappiness and defeat is never the current situation but your thoughts about it.  Happiness and success really comes down to two elements: the way you think and the way you act based upon your thoughts.

Human beings become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do great things, right now, without the need for anything more.  When you believe in yourself, you have realized the first secret of success.  Often finding your way is not about going somewhere new; it’s about seeing familiar ground in new ways.  Once you do, you will realize the only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.  (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Goals and Success” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

6.  Long-term happiness cannot be bought; it must be earned.

If you’d rather live surrounded by pristine objects of little significance than by the traces of happy, passionate memories, stay focused on acquiring tangible possessions.  Otherwise, stop fixating on things you can touch and start caring about the things that touch you.  Each of us has a unique fire in our heart for something that makes us feel alive.  It’s your duty to find it and keep it lit.

Whatever you do, don’t completely sacrifice your life for your livelihood.  Enjoy the gifts money can’t buy.  Promise yourself that you will stay true to your loves, your values, and your purpose.  Let your heart and mind work as one.  Do what it takes so that one day, many moons from now, you can look back at your life, take one final breath, and crack an honest smile.

7.  Not everyone will support you.

If you take every insult or rude slur of your fellow human beings personally, you will be offended for the rest of your life.  One of the most freeing things we learn in life is that we don’t have to agree with everyone, everyone doesn’t have to agree with us, and that’s OK.  As Bruce Lee once said, “I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”  Live by this quote.  Don’t let the opinions of others make you forget it.

It takes a long time to learn how to NOT judge yourself through someone else’s eyes, but once you do the world is yours for the taking.  We have all been placed on this earth to discover our own life, and we will never be happy or successful if we try to live someone else’s idea of it.  So give up worrying too much about what others think of you.  Regardless of what they say about you and your chosen path, remember that the only approval you need in the end is your own.

8.  You are better off without some people you care about.

It’s during the toughest times of your life that you’ll get to see the true colors of the people who say they care about you.  Notice who sticks around and who doesn’t, and be grateful to those who leave you, for they have given you the room to grow in the space they abandoned, and the awareness to appreciate the people who loved you when you didn’t feel lovable.

Bottom line:  Be okay with giving the gift of your absence to those who do not appreciate and respect your presence.

9.  You cannot have happiness without some sadness.

Chuck Palahniuk once said, “The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.”  Nothing could be closer to the truth.  Some sadness is necessary.  Everything in life is two-sided.  You can’t expect to feel pleasure without ever feeling pain, joy without ever feeling sorrow, confidence without ever feeling fearful, hope without ever feeling uncertain, etc.  There is no such thing as a one-sided coin in life, with which you can buy a pain-free, trouble-free life.

Life is a series of highs and lows – an adventure that requires you to take chances and actions that have the possibility of both success (happiness) and failure (sadness).  (Read Buddha’s Brain.)

10.  What’s done is done, but life goes on.

If you are carrying strong emotions about something that happened in your past, they may hinder your ability to live productively in the present.  With everything that has happened, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift of knowledge.  Everything is either an opportunity to learn and grow or an obstacle that keeps you stuck.  You get to choose.

Take a deep breath.  It’s going to be OK… maybe not today, but eventually.  There will be times when it seems like everything that could possibly go wrong is going wrong.  You might feel like you will be stuck in this rut forever, but you won’t.  Sure the sun stops shining sometimes, and you may get a huge thunderstorm or two, but eventually the sun will come out to shine.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of us staying as positive as possible in order to make it to see the sunshine break through the clouds again.

Your turn…

What would you add to this post?  What’s one harsh reality you’ve had to face, or hardship you’ve had to deal with, that helped you grow?  Please leave us a comment below and share your thoughts.

Photo by: Trey Ratcliff


  1. Michael says

    Such great thoughts here. Thank you so much.

    My number 11 would be: Some dreams have to come true when you are young. If you just decided you wanted to be a ballet dancer, or a world class baseball player at 33, chances are….yeah.

    My number 12, on the same note: If you are choosing between two dreams, go with one, and push for it forever! Happy is the man who has one, as opposed to the man who tried for both and got nothing.

  2. says

    Such great thoughts here. Once again, thanks for these words and advice. We all need to know that suffering in this world is never in vain. I’ve always said what doesn’t kills you makes you stronger.

  3. Emma Ferris says

    Until you have learnt to own your power and take responsibility for your experience of life, you will not be happy sharing your life with someone else. You cannot love another until you really do love yourself.

  4. Leon says

    Trust & Betrayal.

    I find it difficult to confide with people I thought would be there for me. Especially my parents. They’ve always brought great anxieties every time I was with them. I felt so guilty at first, staying away. I denied my own feelings, because they were my parents. So much conflicting values when I was growing up … life went on. Got married had my own Kids. But, the anxiety remained … and anger followed. Father punishes without one iota of explanation. I realized he had his own problem. Mother, is in denial on how she treated me. I sat down with her and spoke to her about this. but, she continues her insensitivity and in facebook, I’m not in facebook, but she’ll call me and tell me what people are saying, I just tell her I’m in great health thank you …. I love them, but distance allowed me to breathe and think about my own … Thank You for sharing these inspirational messages.

  5. Megha says

    I love you guys…whenever I feel sad I look up to your posts and it really lifts my spirit! All my good wishes and blessings with you guys… Keep up the good work. You are doing wonders! A big thank you and hug! :)

  6. says

    “Comparing yourself to others will never do you any good.” and/or ” We don’t always have enough time.”

    We can never deny to ourselves that there are people we look up to and there are these icons that make you go, “When I grow up, I want to be like ____.” However, we should acknowledge our own gifts and that we should never let an opportunity pass us by in making good use of them. We should be able to act upon our own purpose, following our own instincts, taking into consideration guidelines from the ones who had did it before and seize that moment that will allow us to shine. We often get misled by immediate succes of the people around us and we often wish for it more than working on our own growth in pursuing our own goal. We forget to enjoy the journey towards it (which will build our very own pedestal so that when worse comes to worst, our foundation is sturdy enough if things get shaken a little bit.). We should learn to trust ourselves, be at our best so that we’re always ready to take up a challenge anytime. Some people get dismantled when challenges catch them unprepared because they are not able to figure out their own selves or that they were too lazy to learn and rediscover themselves.

  7. Scarlet says

    Marc and Angel, you have given me the courage to make a life changing decision, you have touched my life through this medium. I wish you so much happiness in life.

  8. Olsen says

    There’s nothing I could possibly add to this truly AMAZING post. You covered all the sides that need to be covered. I was nodding since I began reading, because each word is placed perfectly where it supposed to be… I want to thank you so much for these impeccable words, much love.

  9. Alice says

    I think the hardest survival issue I had to learn was kindness; not to translate the brutal abuses I suffered as a child back into the world. It was difficult to turn around a life of battery, murder attempts, young homeless, neglect and abandonment (emotionally, far earlier than the young physical abandonment of both my parents). To stay in love with God was easy. I have always known Him but admittedly, at one point gave up that He cared for me.

  10. Elias says

    Thank you so much for the amazing and encouraging articles you guys are posting. Am looking forward to buying your book and will keep on reading your articles more often. It has really changed my life. May God bless you for the work you are doing.

  11. says

    “Take a deep breath. It’s going to be OK… maybe not today, but eventually. There will be times when it seems like everything that could possibly go wrong is going wrong. You might feel like you will be stuck in this rut forever, but you won’t. Sure the sun stops shining sometimes, and you may get a huge thunderstorm or two, but eventually the sun will come out to shine. Sometimes it’s just a matter of us staying as positive as possible in order to make it to see the sunshine break through the clouds again.”

    Going through some tough times and this is definitely on point. I enjoy your blogs a lot and you two helps me get through harsh days. Thanks for keeping it positive. Happy Friday!

  12. Julie says

    Sadly, I am absent from my granddaughters life right now by my daughters choice. She and our son in law have told us that we have no value in their lives & have asked us “what’s in it for them?” Since I lost my career and a huge chunk of income, we can no longer afford to do things we once used to with “gifts” and they do not view the little “everyday” gifts with any value, you know the ones from the heart not from the wallet. We’ve already missed her 3rd birthday & many holidays. There is no communication at all. We’ve been tossed away like garbage though once used over and over. We hope one day, our granddaughter will come find us and ask us for our truth in all of this.

    Till then this harsh reality may just kill me with my broken heart. I know that it’s not all entirely me. I know I’m growing in some way. And I’ve said my apologies, I’ve asked for forgiveness and I have forgiven them.

  13. Steph says

    The only thing I would add is: Love and attachment are two completely different things that feel almost the same!

  14. says

    Thank you.
    Challenges do create opportunities to grow. I’ve had more than can be listed here over the past three years. The positive attitude I have grown to cherish becomes more persistent over time and my gratitude list has changed from things to the blessings of being alive today.

    Sometimes we must remove ourselves from people we love because our presence is their biggest trigger to deeper problems they are not ready to, or able to, face. Staying made the anger and violence escalate. Leaving removes at least one of the biggest excuses to ignore the deeper issues. I grew in the sense my own desires were replaced with love. Love enough to let go. Faith enough to move on without an assurance I would have a place to stay.

    Letting go of the desire to see change in the world. Growing by changing myself.

    The long term health challenges I have had have impacted my ability to support myself. This challenge has helped me grow more trusting of the universe and less dependent on the ‘things’ I once took for granted and no longer can afford to have in my life. The most important things are free.


  15. Beccy says

    What a wonderful piece of writing. Number 8 is one that I have struggled with. After reading your point, I can see this is exactly where I am. And I am understanding the benefit of letting them go and realising the space they leave is one you can grow in as you are free from the sorry they caused you, or you allowed them to cause. Great blog!

  16. Sylvia says

    Two things from this post really hit home for me: What’s done is done, but life goes on AND You will always have less control than you desire. One thing I would add to the list is “this too shall pass.” Because as much as I understand that what’s done is done and life goes on, and as much as I understand that I have less control than I desire in life, when things happen that cause me pain, I’m still going to feel pain. What’s done is done is a logical incarnation. And so is understanding that I’ll always have less control than I desire. My logical mind gets this and reading this post and understanding it helps me logically stomach these harsh realities. But emotionally, I still feel the pain until the pain goes away. And eventually the pain does go away and I get over it. But it takes time. I’m not sure why it takes time, but it does.

    Research has shown that when you experience a tragic event, there are chemicals in your brain that are released that cause you psychological distress.
    I once read a study that claimed that people that suffer from anxiety or depression or a variety of psychological ailments do not clear their mind of these chemicals as quickly as “others” These chemicals just linger for longer. I’m not sure if that research is correct, but that’s certainly what it feels like for me: the event happens, I accept it logically, but those damn “fight or flight” chemicals in my brain seem to just stick around until they wear off — and I’m at the mercy of them until they do wear off.

    The other thing that postpones getting over my pain is regurgitation. I tend to replay negative events in my head and relive the event over and over again. The first part of getting over something is to stop playing it in your mind. I find that I just play it over and over in my mind until it no longer causes me pain or I just learn to accept it. But it would be far easier to just take the lesson learned and move on instead of beating myself up over spilled milk.

  17. Elle says

    What beautiful and comforting words! My life has been about dysfunctional family ties, painful scapegoating, learning this late in life to finally let them go because they were never mine and never truly wanted me in the first place. Now i can fly, I have an amazing husband who stuck by me and my love for rescuing animals has saved me more than you would ever know. I’ve redefined my life and my boundaries.

    Sad that I’ve had to go to nasty lengths sometimes to shake up the muck to let it leave me, but to hold on and know that I forgive them and I forgive myself is powerful and in my faith I am free.

    Thank you once again for what you do!

  18. Mary Ann R says

    God, I love you both for your insight on life.

    I’ve read this article before but apparently needed to read it again. It came up on my facebook feed and man, it just so hits home. I lost my job a few months ago because my position was being eliminated. This after being there 10 years and being told on the morning of my 10th anniversary. The job ended, life moved on then a few weeks ago, my job, same title and all, shows up on Indeed. The feeling of anger and frustration started all over again. It’s been sticking with me and hard to shake, especially finding out a co-worker had a lot to do with it, all the while acting supportive.

    This line among so many helped me so much today:
    ‘The greatest miracle of your success in life will not be that you finished, it will be that you found the strength and courage to begin.’ – thanks for that. I needed that today and most every day.

    May life bless you as you continue this work. You touch so many peoples life with your words. I personally just wanted to express my appreciation.

  19. AngelFromStrike says

    My number 11. would be that your parents or siblings or family doesn’t necessarily needs to desperately give you that family feeling,

    So if your family gives you disappointment after disappointment and they make you doubt about yourself look around you,

    You’ll see that you are surrounded by a warm loving safe family, they’ll supports you, pick you up when you fell down and dry your tears with sunshine, so now… look again too those people

    You’ll see that this true family is made of real friends, your significant other, second degree niece and a whole bunch of people who sincerely love you for you and who’ll give you the greatest feeling of all – Coming home in a safe, loving and warm family

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